Unanswered questions remain following Harambe’s death

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The rush to judgment following the Cincinnati Zoo incident that resulted in a small boy’s injuries and a gorilla’s death is understandable but unproductive.

It is understandable because the incident involves two issues that ignite our passions: the welfare of children and the welfare of animals. But pointing fingers and laying blame before all of the facts are known doesn’t do anyone any good.

A Comprehensive Investigation Is Warranted

From what I understand, authorities began looking into the matter this week.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

An article in The New York Times indicates the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office and Cincinnati police are now trying to learn more about the events leading up to the incident in which a three-year-old boy somehow got into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“The incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the young child who fell into the gorilla enclosure is under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges.”

A second statement issued by Deters’ office yesterday said the police inquiry had been completed and that Deters is reviewing their findings. His own review of the findings could be finished as soon as today.

According to media reports, the little boy was not badly hurt. However his adventure — or misadventure — ended tragically when zoo personnel shot and killed a large male gorilla named Harambe. While there are conflicting accounts about Harambe’s behavior, the  personnel on scene apparently believed he posed a significant danger to the child and acted accordingly.

Because the United States Department of Agriculture oversees zoos, federal authorities will be tasked with conducting a separate investigation should it come to that. Specifically, they would be charged with assessing conditions around the enclosure and determining whether the shooting was justified.

Here’s What I Want To Know

As I’ve already mentioned, there are conflicting accounts about Harambe’s behavior. Since I wasn’t on the scene, here’s what I want to know:

  • Were people screaming after the little boy got into the enclosure?
  • If so did the screaming seem to alarm Harambe?
  • If so why didn’t the zoo workers quiet the crowd?
  • Did zoo workers clear the area?
  • How many workers came to the enclosure?
  • Were they specially trained in dealing with gorillas?
  • What kind of training did they receive?
  • How often are training exercises done?
  • What types of training exercise are done?
  • What is the zoo’s policy regarding the use of lethal force?
  • What is the zoo’s policy regarding public safety?
  • How often are these policies reviewed?

I am sure you have questions, too. Please feel free to share them below.

Kasich inks new Good Samaritan bill

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Last week I urged you not to leave your pets — or your kids alone in the car this summer.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But I didn’t tell you what you should do if you see an unsupervised child or animal in a hot car.

To be honest, there are a couple of reasons for that. First, and most importantly, I don’t want anything I write to be construed as legal advice. For one thing, I am not a lawyer so I am not qualified to dispense it.  As a paralegal I can’t dispense it. And aside from all that, we live in an extremely litigious society and I would really rather not get sued.

If I could tell you what to do, here’s what I’d say. “It depends.”

It’s The Law… In Ohio

In Ohio, citizens will soon be able to take immediate action in order to “rescue” an unsupervised child or animal from a hot car. Specifically, the new law that reportedly takes effect later this summer allows a civilian to break into a vehicle in order to free a companion animal or child without fear of reprisal — but only in very specific and very limited circumstances.

The language in Ohio SB215 regarding the removal of a child and the removal of an animal is similar. So for brevity’s sake I’ll share the information regarding  pets.

The new law recently inked by Ohio Gov. John Kasich stipulates that a vehicle owner can not sue someone who breaks into their car to remove an animal for damages if the person who does so:

  • has checked to see if the door is locked before forcing his or her way into the vehicle
  • has reason to believe the animal is in grave and immediate danger
  • has made a legitimate effort to alert authorities before breaking into the car or alerts them as soon as possible afterwards
  • has made a legitimate effort to inform the vehicle owner of what has transpired in writing after forcing his or her way into the car
  • has stayed with the animal in a “safe location” until authorities arrived
  • and has not used unnecessary force to break into the vehicle

Anyone who uses excessive force or tries to aid the animal in a manner not specified by the law automatically loses the protection otherwise afforded by it.

You can read more here.

Other State Laws

As of last year, laws in other states, such as Arizona and California allow certain authorities to use “reasonable” force to remove or rescue animals from motor vehicles. Similar provisions were in place in the following states in 2015:

  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The New York law also prevents qualified individuals from being sued. In Tennessee, anyone who acts within the scope of the law is also protected.

For more information on the applicable laws in your state, visit your state legislature’s website.

New Ohio law makes animal cruelty a felony

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A first time conviction for animal cruelty in Ohio could soon result in harsher penalties.

According to published reports, state lawmakers recently passed HB60, which is also known as Goddard’s Law. The bill — which clarifies and strengthens the state’s existing animal cruelty statutes — becomes law once Gov. John Kasich signs it.

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In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As it now stands, Ohio law prohibits anyone from “knowingly torture, torment, needlessly mutilate or maim, cruelly beat, poison, needlessly kill, or commit an act of cruelty against a companion animal.” That remains unchanged. However, the new language in the version of HB60 passed by the House is even more explicit about what constitutes “serious physical harm,”  and the penalties upon conviction.

It stipulates that “no person shall knowingly cause serious physical harm to a companion animal” by doing any or all of the following:

  • Withholding adequate food and water (directly resulting in the companion animal’s illness or death)
  • Causing the companion animal to be and remain in pain for a prolonged or sustained period
  • Engaging in any activity that could kill the companion animal
  • Engaging in any activity that the companion animal’s partial or permanent and total disability
  • Engaging in any activity that causes prolonged suffering

Anyone convicted of doing any or all of the above faces a fifth-degree felony charge and faces six months to a year in prison upon conviction.

Why Is This Such A Big Deal?

In most states, someone found guilty of animal cruelty for the first time only faces a misdemeanor charge. This usually means that he or she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail, fined or both. In some states there are harsher penalties the next time you’re convicted and for each time after that.

But in most cases the offender just gets a proverbial “slap on the wrist.” And given the correlation between violence targeting animals and violence towards people, I think that’s an absolute joke.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know.


Crooks sink to new low as ‘dognapping’ cases increase

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What would you do if someone stole your dog? Or your cat, for that matter?

It’s probably something that has never crossed your mind. But it is something that you should probably start thinking about. Now.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

According to a commonly cited statistic, roughly two million companion animals are stolen in the United States each year.  Some disappear from back yards, and some vanish from “public places.” Some are snatched from cars.  Most are never seen again.

Each Valentine’s Day (February 14), Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a Los Angeles-based animal rights and advocacy group, joins similar organizations throughout the country to celebrate Pet Theft Awareness Day.  Its goal is to promote public awareness of the issue.

But to be honest, I had no idea that pet theft is so pervasive until I came across an article on an Ohio television station’s website. The account includes information about a couple that is suing an “estranged family member” who allegedly stole their dog. Shelby Patton, a plaintiff in the case, has reportedly started a petition in an effort to “change Ohio laws” so litigation is no longer necessary.

Fortunately, LCA says there are things pet owners can do to help prevent thefts. You can read those tips here.



Baby, it’s cold outside!

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Newsflash: it’s winter, it’s cold and it might snow.

Dateline — Greenwich, Conn. As I write this, the East Coast is bracing for a weekend snow storm. And if the media is to be believed, this will be a storm of epic proportions – especially in the mid-Atlantic states.

Here in the greater New York City suburbs, some meteorologists are actually showing some restraint. They say we will only get 4 to 7 inches where I live and more further to the south and west. I’ll take it — but I must confess that I’ll be much happier if this nor’easter is a total dud. I’d really rather not spend my birthday shoveling snow, especially since I’ll officially be one step closer to the big “5-0.”

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But all joking aside, the arrival of winter and all of the unpleasantness that it entails raises serious concerns for pet owners, animal lovers and those of us who are also interested in the law as it relates to the health and safety of dogs and cats.

To that end, local and national news outlets publish tons of stories about caring for companion animals during this time of year. One article that recently caught my attention was about a proposed change to existing rules in Ohio. According to the article on nbc4i.com, state lawmakers are considering proposed legislation requiring pet owners to bring their dogs inside in “extreme weather conditions.” Under current laws, people are allowed to leave healthy dogs outdoors as long as they provide adequate shelter.

Connecticut law also mandates that animals have access to acceptable “protection from the weather.” Anyone who fails to provide it may be charged with cruelty to animals. The penalty upon conviction is a maximum fine of $250, up to one year in jail, or both.

In New York, there are comprehensive rules about what constitutes appropriate shelter for “dogs left outdoors” and the penalties for failing to provide it. Perpetrators face fines ranging from $50 to $100 for the first offense, and $100 to $250 for the second and each ensuing offense. Under the law, violators have a set period of time to bring the standard to acceptable standards. Failure to take necessary action within that period can result in another violation.

Personally, I think it boils down to compassion and common sense. Please use both.